This year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Richard Pryor’s “Wanted: Live in Concert” stand-up comedy album. The performances on this record were also filmed and released as a full-length feature movie in 1979.
Prior to the creation of this album, Pryor was involved in an incident at his Los Angeles home after a New Year’s Eve party, where he shot his gun at a car that contained his wife and her friends as they were fleeing the party, riddling the car with bullet holes. “All I did was kill a car!” Pryor jokes in the opening track on the album.
No one was injured in the incident, but as a result of legal action, Pryor was ordered to seek therapy. “And that led him to start keeping diaries, and thinking a lot about his childhood,” biographer Scott Saul explains. “Some of the most profound, moving, complicated and amazing material on this album comes out of that.”
Pryor is known for his knack for making us laugh at tragic events and circumstances. “He took what could possibly be considered a tragic life or a tough life, and made it funny,” says comedian Howie Mandel. Mandel has long been inspired by Pryor’s stand-up sets, and describes him as the “consummate poster boy for a sense of humor ... having a sense that there is humor where other people don’t see it.”
Pryor is also known for his vivid characterizations, impersonations and personification, all of which are actively used throughout this album. “In many ways this is the moment in Richard Pryor’s life where he’s at the summit of his talent,” says Saul. “Just after this album he’ll light himself on fire, and that fire will have enormous effect on his person, his ability to perform [and] on his confidence.”
One of Pryor’s daughters, Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor, feels a strong personal connection to the “Wanted: Live in Concert” album. “It is the album that I feel most connected to my father. I recognize the person talking, I know the stories, I was there when they happened.”
She continues to carry with her a number of lessons learned from her father, including this encouragement: “My father told me that any time I saw a performer whose work I admired, I should let them know. We’d walk down the street and people would be like ‘Hey Rich!’ out of the cars and stuff like that. And I remember asking my father if that bothered him, if it was too much, and he said ‘No, I think it would really bother me when they stop yelling out of the car.’”
In 2017 the Library of Congress chose Richard Pryor’s “Wanted: Live in Concert” album for preservation in the National Recording Registry.